Playwright-actor Harvey Fierstein has begun a tradition of putting on a cabaret act during Gay Pride Week every year. He began doing these shows at Eighty Eight's, and now appears to have taken up annual residence at Joe's Pub. Culled from bits and pieces of his life and his life's work, this year's show was made up of shtick from his early days (and nights) as a drag queen, songs and monologues from his plays, and the occasional special material number--including the title song of this show.
When he began singing "This is Not Going to be Pretty" (by Lindy Robbins, Ann Hampton Callaway and Harvey Fierstein), the meaning(s) came fast and deliciously layered. Possessing the voice of an animated cartoon character, Fierstein first suggested that the very act of hearing him sing wasn't going to be pretty. But the lyrics also referenced the bitchy, nasty stuff he would tell us in the course of the act. As the amiable accompanist Lenny Babbish kept him relatively close to the notes, Fierstein periodically segued out of the tune to tell a some very dicey jokes. Later, he read hilarious email from his doting, if dotty, mother.
Geared to a gay audience, the show was at once a celebration of gay pride and a fascinating glimpse at the career of a unique showman.
Salem of the Century
For Marc Salem, the expression "A penny for your thoughts" adds up to real money. Here is a mentalist who knows what you're thinking even before you think it. The star of the Off-Broadway hit Mind Games of a couple of seasons ago, Salem is a dryly amusing man with what seems to be a full bag of tricks--though, according to him, what you see on stage isn't trickery at all. This entertaining mountebank insists everything he does in his act is neither magic nor sleight of hand, but a product of his study of nonverbal communication. Having taken his show out of its theater context and added an all-female jazz trio (Vibrations) to the act, Salem has brought his newly titled Mind Games and All That Jazz to Feinstein's at The Regency, where it will play throughout the summer.
We saw the show at a special press performance in a room littered with critics, many of whom were called upon to take part in the proceedings. So we know for a fact that there were no shills in the audience. When Salem successfully guessed that Barbara's answers to his questions were "a stuffed polar bear" and "a trip to Edinburgh," both of which were written on a piece of paper Salem could not have seen, we were truly amazed; so was the critic for The New York Times, who included Barbara's Salem experience in his review. (To further make the point: a critic from Variety took us aside before the show and insisted that Salem would, in some fashion, be conning the audience. Having performed magic himself for 30 years, this critic was trying to spot the "plants" spread among the audience and was checking under tables for hidden microphones. At the end of the show he came over to us and said, "Forget everything I told you. I have no idea how he does it.")
Salem doesn't bend spoons, cut women in half, or escape from a straitjacket while immersed in a tank of water. Happily, he doesn't do card tricks, either. But he'll offer you money if he can't guess which one of three colored envelopes you will choose. And he'll tell you what song you're thinking of, based on a list of approximately forty tunes on a card left on your table. In the time-honored tradition of all mentalists, he also has items gathered from the audience and, with his eyes taped shut, guesses what each item is without touching it.
Marc Salem's show is not your typical cabaret fare--but, then, it wasn't your typical theater fare, either. Yet it's mesmerizing, and entirely entertaining.
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